Terry Adkins, Ulukuk, 2011.From the series “Nutjuitok (Polar Star), After Matthew Henson 1866“. Image via db-artmag.com.
Nutjuitok (Polar Star)
April 4 – September 14, 2014
625 C Street
Terry Adkins was on a quest to right historical wrongs. In the new solo exhibition, Nutjuitok (Polar Star), multimedia installations examine Northern exploration and exploitation through the story of Matthew Henson.
Henson was an African American explorer and associate of Robert Peary on various expeditions, the most famous being the race to the North Pole.
In 1909, Peary mounted his eighth attempt to reach the geographic North Pole. He was suffering from frostbite, and sent Henson ahead as a scout. Henson later testified, “I could see that my footprints were the first at the spot.”
Although Peary received many honors, Henson spent the next 30 years working in obscurity as a customs clerk.
Adkins re-examined this story by undertaking his own Northern expedition: During a 2011 artist residency at the Anchorage Museum he traveled to the Arctic Circle and researched Henson’s immersion in Inuit culture.
Adkins learned Henson traded with Inuit people, learned the language, built sleds and trained dog teams. Henson also fathered a half-Inuit son, whose descendants still live in Greenland.
In discussing the North Pole journey and the dispute around who arrived first, Adkins’ artwork broaches a larger conversation about the legacy of exploration and its impact on indigenous people.
Adkins was known for melding sculpture, music, video, literature and ritual to preserve the legacies of his subjects, who in the past have included Sojourner Truth and Ralph Ellison.
Adkins’ work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. He was an art professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.